Record of the Week: The Style Council – Cafe Bleu

No, you’re not trapped in a Back To The Future scenario. Cafe Bleu, resplendent in blue vinyl, is the first The Style Council’s albums re-released in vinyl. Has it stood the test of time or aged badly like some of its’ 1984 peers?

Breaking up The Jam was a brave decision for a 24-year-old, a group which was arguably the biggest in Britain at that time. With that backdrop, The Style Council was even braver. The Beat Surrender EP with its Chi-Lites cover and slow, jazz-influenced Shopping, hinted at what was to come but Speak Like A Child felt familiar, almost a deliberate decision to bridge two bands.

Bruce Foxton observed that he felt the material released by The Style Council in the early days wasn’t anything beyond The Jam musical skills. The demo version of A Solid Bond In Your Heart surfaced on Direction Creation Reaction, validating Foxton’s view to some extent when it surfaced as the fourth or fifth single under the TSC banner.

Cafe Bleu, however, destroys the argument. It’s an album which would never have seen light of day as a Jam lp. They already had a ‘lost’ album when the follow-up to The Modern World was canned; All Mod Cons emerged from the ashes. Would Cafe Bleu have been The Jam’s Modernism: The New Decade? Rejected by a conservative record label, unwilling to take a risk with the overall formula?

While The Gift was varied, Cafe Bleu is eclectic, heavily influenced by varying styles under the ‘jazz’ banner. Instrumentals pock mark the album, from the opening Mick’s Blessing, which begs for Barry Norman to add, “And why not?” after the last key is pressed on Mick Talbot’s piano, through to the closing Council Meetin’, a half-cousin of The Gift.

In between the two, Me Ship Came In, a bossa nova influenced jaunt, and the outright jazz of Droppin’ Bombs On The Whitehouse, underlined the different musical direction and highlighted the astonishing mastery of the drums, the then 19-year-old Steve White possessed.

Weller sang on just six of the thirteen tracks, sharing vocals with Talbot and Dee C. Lee on the footstomping Strength Of Your Nature and embellished Headstart For Happiness. Of the others, minimalism seemed to be his trademark. The Whole Point Of No Return with its’ guitar backing and a piano-solo My Ever Changing Moods typify that approach.

The album had it’s fair share of the great and good from the jazz-soul scene. The NME Album of the Year for 1984 was Bobby Womack’s Poet II, with Womack & Womack at four. It’s a surprising list from what I remember of the NME but voted on by readers, it served to underline the eclectic mix the newspaper attracted.

More so than Sounds – focused as I recall on the rock/metal scene – and Melody Maker, which tried and failed to straddle the two. Sounds, for what it’s worth, hated Cafe Bleu.

Considering the mainstream music scene was filled with the usual pap or Steve Lilywhite’s trademark bombastic drum sound, Cafe Bleu was a risky release. Weller noted that even Polydor were nervous about how it would fare. Rick Buckler apparently commented, “You’re fucking joking”, when Weller played him the new release.

Looking back from thirty-odd years, it’s fared pretty well. You’re The Best Thing, the biggest hit off the album and the only single version included, still gets regular air play while My Ever Changing Moods had more blue-eyed soul as a single. Of the two recorded versions of The Paris Match, there’s nothing wrong with Tracey Thorn’s vocals – they suit this album entirely – but I found the Weller’s vocals gave the song a sadder edge.

The only tracks which don’t stand up now are two which weren’t favourites back then: A Gospel with Dizzy Hites rapping sounds like a dated pastiche of Sugar Hill while Here’s One That Got Away was a filler on the album at best.

Overall, it’s a decent album but Our Favourite Shop was their peak. The genre lends itself to a timeless element and if released for the first time today, it would do well commercially, I suspect. Mind you, Weller could release an album with the lyrics consisting of adverts from the Yellow Pages and I suspect it would be a commercial success.

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